In what might have been the final home game for the Watertown Privateers franchise, they certainly didnt finish up their regular season the way they wanted to.
Though the Privateers drew one of their best crowds of the season (645), the Danbury Whalers controlled the game throughout in routing Watertown, 6-2, in a Federal Hockey League clash on Friday night at Watertown Municipal Arena.
The evenings attendance in their regular-season finale was one of the best of the season for the Privateers that may be a silver lining down the road for the up-for-sale team.
This is a real nice crowd tonight, said FHL commissioner Don Kirnan, now a co-owner of the Privateers.
Its not the way we wanted to end it, said Privateers assistant captain Chase Tippin, who has played with the franchise since its first year in Alexandria Bay in 2010-11. But hopefully we can learn from tonight especially with the chance to play Danbury in the playoffs. If we learn from our mistakes, I feel like were going to make it a tight series.
Watertown (20-36), which completed its regular season in third place in the four-team FHL, will open the playoffs at either Dayton or Danbury next week.
Since Watertown wont host a playoff game this season because of a lack of ice availability at the city arena, this also could have been the franchises last game in the north country, as its status to remain in the city for next season is contingent upon its sale to a local ownership group.
Ive played here for two years, Tippin said. And this being the last home game of the season its hard for the fans, especially for the real diehards who are always here every night.
We dont want to look too far ahead to next season, because were in the playoffs, said Watertown defenseman Kris McCarthy, who took over as the teams general manager in late February when then-general manager and coach Brad Zangs was fired Feb. 20. But were going to be here and were going to be representing Watertown in the Federal Hockey League. Our goal is the same every year and thats to win the Commissioners Cup and we still have a chance to do that this season.
For the second consecutive year, the Privateers wont host a playoff game. The city will take up the arena ice in early April.
Its one of those things, I want to see this team stay here for next season, Tippin said. Ive made a lot of good friends around here, so to see the team move or anything like that would be a bit of a heartbreak.
Danbury (36-19) plays at Dayton at 7:35 tonight with the regular-season title and a first-round playoff bye on the line.
Kirnan, who took over partial ownership of the Privateers during the season said hes confident the Kirnans, including daughter Nicole, will be able to sell the team to a local ownership group.
He also said theres better than a 50-50 chance that a deal to sell the franchise will get done following this season.
We have to sell the team, Kirnan said, and if we dont, unfortunately this may have been the teams last game here.
Kirnan, who took over partial ownership earlier in the season along majority owner Nicole Kirnan, is also hopeful that the league will expand for next season, saying theres a 70-percent chance of expansion, possibly in Winston-Salem, N.C., and in Connellsville, Pa., where the Privateers played a game in each city recently.
But the Kirnans are hopeful of the Privateers franchise remaining in Watertown. The team played its first two seasons in Alexandria Bay, before Nicole Kirnan moved the team to Watertown before the 2012-13 season.
Don Kirnan also said the return of the Privateers franchise to the league is important, but overall is not imperative to the survival of the FHL.
We really want the team to stay here in this marketplace, Don Kirnan said. We feel the north country is a good home for this team and we want that to continue.
Don Kirnan said the team was very encouraged by McCarthys effort in his first role as general manager,
For the game itself, David Lun and Igor Karlov each scored two goals and assisted on another to pace Danbury, which is still in the hunt for first place in the FHL.
The Whalers jump on the Privateers for three successive goals in the first period, sparked by Luns goal 1 minute, 59 seconds into the game.